Children on the autism spectrum usually have difficulties with the sense of touch, or tactile defensiveness. This may lead to rituals or aversions in clothing, food, flooring.
Strangely as it may seem, the excess in tactile self stimulation is an attempt of the brain to repair its serotonin function.
Vicious Cycle of Touch
Serotonin is the hormone in the brain that translates sensory information. It will increase in production through specific sensory inputs, so the situation is almost an impossible vicious circle for the child with autism: the brain demands touch, but at the same time makes errors of translation, so the child craves for touch and runs into excess, without being able to give the brain the type of sensory input it actually needs to improve its regulation of Serotonin. The considerable problem here is that pressure, hitting, or other tactile excess lead to stress which in fact will destroy serotonin.
It is crucial that the parent builds a rehabilitation of the child with autism’s sense of touch knowing one essential fact: the receptor for the sense of touch are located inside the skin and nowhere else. There are five types of touch receptors in the skin. The one we are interested in is the one for texture, not pressure, not pain, not heat, not cold, but texture.
All tactile information done with a therapeutic project has to remain at a very light level, curving the hair of the arm, gentle and soft.
Of course, the next obstacle is the resistance of the child to any soft touch. Again, the mistranslation of the brain leads the child to flee soft touch as if it was painful. Some verbal children have told me that it felt like being scraped by a sharp blade.
There is one spot on the body where the brain usually does not make as many errors simply because it is consistently used and proper translation is the key for safety: the foot sole. The foot sole has an enormous amount of receptors for touch, pressure, movement, position. If your child is standing, the brain is working at processing, even if the child is not moving.
The tool I am about to teach you about is right there, in the foot, but there is one more thing I need you to know:
Let the child discover for himself
An other factor to consider with great attention is the the effect of control on your child capacity to process sensory information. When you place yourself in any way between the input and your child, such as holding his or her hand, making a verbal demand, you decrease considerably the effect of the sensory information as your child with autism’s brain will first prioritize what comes from you, then what comes from the environment.
Much good effect is diluted by a sincere desire of the parent to obtain more effect , thus intervening to get the stimulation happen: “here bob touch this, touch it again,” for example.
Any quality input which the child himself or herself organizes has multiplied therapeutic effects.
Stepping on a texture then standing on it, simply enjoying the discovery is leading to a serotonin increase as well as a development of self awareness and self esteem.
When I first placed the “magic carpet” in my therapy room, I was only observing children’s reactions to its rough feel, fun appearance.
A very simple plastic doormat, it laid there, interesting, part of the environment. I did not mention it to the children with autism I was working with, or the babies with Down syndrome or cerebral palsy.I always was a firm believer in great findings at low cost and ideas that parents could implement easily.
The reaction of the children were always immediate and positive, they would reach to the mat, stand on it, lay down on top of it, even roll it around their bodies.
There were many exciting developments following exposure to the mat but one of the most remarkable happened with at 2 and a half year old who visited me from a distant country with his parents. He stood on the mat almost for the entire time I had a training session with the family. The same evening, he said his first word.
This also helps with speech
The connection to the strong, interesting and independent tactile experience and speech is clear: on the map of the brain the centers for speech are neighbors to the foot and the hand on the tactile processing area. A very novel and rich experience had unlocked a process in verbal communication.
- Go to their local store and buy a green or brown door mat, as close as possible to the picture for this article. Any deviation from this ideal tool will make it less useful.
- Leave it available in any room your child with autism likes to play, maybe in front of the tv, or anywhere he or she likes to spend time.
Remember to not even mention the mat, do step on it occasionally to let your child know that it is safe and fine, and wait.
You will observe how fast your child will grow to love walking on the mat, sitting on it, rubbing his or her hands on it.
This is the least expensive sensory piece of equipment you will ever get which will bring great treasures one of them being the soothing effect in intense moments of anxiety.
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